9 Investigates: Florida's "stand your ground" law revealed



ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - On Monday Jackson Fleurimon stood before Ninth Circuit Judge Heather Pinder Rodriguez pleading no contest to aggravated assault with a firearm and grand theft. 

For the defendant known in his neighborhood as “Flo,” the pleas represent the first time he has even been convicted of a felony despite a half dozen arrests for charges ranging from drugs and violence to first degree murder.  All of his prior charges were either dropped, reduced or dismissed. That includes Fleurimon’s first-degree murder case, which never went before a jury because a judge granted him immunity under the state’s stand your ground statute.

The Fleurimon case is one of more than 30 stand your ground cases Eyewitness News reviewed as part of a comprehensive report on the law and its effects since its passage in 2005.  Critics of the law point to cases like Fleurimon’s, in which a defendant with a history of arrests was able to escape prosecution by using the exact letter of the law, only to re-offend months later.

The two third-degree felonies for which Fleurimon, 27, was ultimately convicted this week took place in the same west Orange apartment complex where just a few years earlier he shot and killed Lucas “Skibo” Termitus.

On the evening of March 27, 2008, Fleurimon was told by a neighbor that Termitus might be planning to rob him.  Fleurimon would later tell investigators that he confronted Termitus about the accusations, even showing Termitus that he was carrying a handgun. At the time of the shooting, witnesses said Fleurimon referred to himself as a “non-convicted felon,” a reference to his three felony arrests for assault and possession of marijuana that never resulted in a felony conviction. In fact, Fleurimon’s status as a “non-convicted felon” gave him the legal right to own a handgun and even hold a concealed carry permit for the weapon.

According to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation, Fleurimon approached Termitus approximately 45 minutes after the initial confrontation.  It was during this second confrontation that, according to investigators, Termitus reached for his own weapon. As he did, Fleurimon pulled his .40-caliber Glock and shot Termitus, killing him.  After the shooting Fleurimon remained on the scene, handing over his weapon to deputies.

Following the Sheriff’s Office investigation, state prosecutors charged Fleurimon with first-degree murder.  However, before the case could go to trial, Fleurimon’s defense requested a stand your ground hearing, otherwise known as an immunity hearing. His defense attorney argued that Fleurimon was acting in self-defense and was entitled to immunity under Florida’s stand your ground law. The prosecution, meanwhile, insisted that Fleurimon had provoked the altercation, resulting in the fatal shooting.  

On June 4, 2012, following a lengthy hearing, Orange Circuit Judge Mike Murphy declared that “the defense by preponderance of the evidence established that the defendant acted in self-defense.” The judge’s decision granted Fleurimon immunity from further prosecution. 

But a little more than six months after that ruling, Fleurimon was arrested again. This time he was charged with holding up a man -- at gunpoint -- at his apartment complex.  

“This appears to be an unintended consequence of this law” says WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer, “It is a basis to re-examine this law and whether or not bad people are taking advantage of this and literally getting away with murder.”

State leaders said they plan to revisit the stand your ground statute, but only in a very narrow scope.  State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, sits on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and is one of the authors of the original statute passed in 2005. Simmons says the state needs to consider changes to what constitutes provocation and, perhaps, define the responsibilities and abilities given to neighborhood watch volunteers.

“If you are the person who provoked the use of force, the question becomes: What is provocation? What does it take to be the one who provoked the use of force?  Do we need to define that? Is racial profiling something that constitutes enough to be a provocation?” Simmons asked.

As for Fleurimon’s case and others like it, Simmons said the courts must always weigh the evidence against five preconditions before immunity can be granted: The person must be in a place where he or she has the right to be. They must be attacked. They cannot provoke the use of force. They must be the one who acts reasonably in all manners, and they cannot be engaged in unlawful activity. Simmons says it is up to the justice system on a case-by-case basis to determine if the law applies.